artist trick for finding colors blog cover
Art Tip

Artist Trick for Finding Colors (Revisited)

Swatching your colors.  I thought this post would be a great one to visit again.  Having a key for how my paints interact has been really helpful with colors like red and yellow that I don’t work with as often.  

I finally listened to a piece of art advice that I had been hearing for years and putting off, so I thought it would be a great time to share it with you ( or in case you need a reminder to do it).

Create color swatches of your paints/art materials!  I’ve gotten very comfortable with the acrylic paints that I use.  I’ve been using generally the same limited palette for painting the past ten years.  There are about five to six different colors I use on a regular basis and I’ve gotten very familiar with how each one reacts when mixed.  However, there is one hue that I use so rarely that I always struggle with getting the correct one that I need pretty much every time I go to use it – RED (and more specifically when I need a tint of pink). 

The next step on my current painting that I’ve been working on is adding details of pink, so rather than do my normal guessing of which of the four options I own will mix correctly, I decided to finally do some color swatches that I can reference now and in the future. 

color swatches of reds and blues on desk
Close up of red color swatches

There’s tons of ways that you can do this.  Here is what I decided would work best for me and the information that I can get from looking at them.  

I had some scrap watercolor paper that I cut down into two by five inch sections.  I wrote the name of the color on the top followed by a pure stroke of that color.  This shows me what the color looks like straight out of the tube.  Many times acrylic paint will dry slightly darker than what initially comes out of the tube, so this can be helpful information to see what the color will dry as.

On the bottom I put a swipe of black (let it dry) then added the color to the top.  This helps to show how transparent or opaque the color is.  A transparent color will show more of the black underneath, while the opaque colors will block it.  This is helpful for knowing how the paint will react while layering it in a painting. 

Next I mixed the color 50% with white and then added three additional segments of white.  This shows how the color lightens as a tint.  In the case of red, this is how I can see the different pinks I can create.  

Then I mixed the color with 50% black and then added three additional segments of the color.  This shows how the color darkens into a shade.

The final thing that I added was an area that shows how to neutralize the color which is helpful for when you need a duller version of the color – such as when painting something further away.  I did this by mixing the color with its complement on the color wheel and then added three additional segments with increasing amounts the complement.  For the example of the reds, I mixed in green.  

Now that I’ve done this, I’ll be able to tell a lot about a color in just a glance.  I highly recommend doing this with your different art materials if you haven’t already.  It would be a very helpful step especially if you’re just starting out with a new medium.

Is this something you've done with your art materials?

Leave a Reply